Helping victims of domestic abuse

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  Posted by: The Probe      18th October 2020

The roles of Dental Hygienists and Dental Therapists have long revolved around the innate need to help others. After all, these professions are by nature about care and helping people to prioritise their oral health to prevent further harm.

Dental Hygienists and Dental Therapists are also well placed to help people in drastic ways. For example, as these professionals have such a close proximity to patients, they can alert people to oral abnormalities or even identify signs of something wrong, such as evidence of eating disorders, or, the one I want to highlight today, domestic violence.

The lockdown period that resulted from the outbreak of COVID-19 meant that many people were stuck indoors with nowhere to go. For some, this has been a blessing, but for those with potentially abusive family members or partners, this time has been a very different story. According to one news article, homicides resulting from domestic violence increased exponentially during the first few months of UK lockdown.[i] The number of murders more than tripled during this time, with victims of all ages facing the consequences of being stuck inside with their abusers. Significantly, these are just the rates of murders experienced, not the increase of violence in general.

Figures from a domestic abuse charity in London confirmed this worrying increase in violence, stating that since the restrictions of lockdown have ended and people are once again able to seek help, their call volumes had increased by 200%. What is especially worrying about these statistics is that a much higher percentage of these calls were categorised as what the charity considered “high-risk” – effectively, those calling faced extreme risk of extensive physical injury or homicide.[ii]

So, with tensions running high and many people potentially suffering, what can dental hygienists and dental therapists do to help?

Although a lot of domestic abuse injuries are tactfully inflicted on areas of the body that are easily concealed, facial and oral injuries are still common. In fact, 75% of head or neck trauma associated with domestic violence is thought to occur with oral injury.[iii]

October is International Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, meaning that now is a better time than ever to ensure that you are aware of the signs of domestic violence and have the resources available to help those who you believe may need it.

The signs of domestic violence can be very clear. Any injuries to the teeth, soft tissues, tongue or other parts of the oral anatomy that cannot be easily explained may be a clue. Fractures and avulsed teeth are particularly telling, especially in areas of the mouth where these would not happen without traumatic accident. However, it’s also worth remembering that some signs are more invisible. The mental impact of domestic abuse is just as debilitating, and people may present with dental neglect, wear and erosion from stress and grinding and other markers that may not be necessarily linked to domestic abuse.

As such, it’s vital to step lightly when addressing this issue. If you believe a patient is at risk then the best thing you can do is try to broach the subject by offering resources such as telephone numbers for charities so that the person suffering can seek the appropriate help.

At the end of the day, it’s important to ensure that you have the knowledge as a Dental Hygienist or Dental Therapist to be able to identify signs of abuse when they present. This way, you can offer appropriate guidance, giving these individuals a lifeline that may lead to the salvation they need.

 

For more information about the BSDHT, please visit www.bsdht.org.uk, call 01788 575050 or email enquiries@bsdht.org.uk

 

[i] The New York Times. Coronavirus and Domestic Abuse. Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/02/world/europe/uk-coronavirus-domestic-abuse.html [Last accessed July 20].

[ii] CBS News. As UK Lockdown Eases, UK Domestic Abuse Charity Sees Huge Surge in Calls For Help. Link: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-lockdown-eases-uk-domestic-abuse-charity-sees-huge-surge-in-calls-for-help/ [Last accessed July 20].

[iii] Science Daily. Dentists Can Be The First Line of Defence Against Domestic Violence. Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190425133034.htm [Last accessed July 20].


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